Winning: Al Qaeda Tries To Change The Rules

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July 17, 2007: Terrorists tend to be poor historians. Throughout the last century, terrorist groups achieved few of their objectives, and ultimately faded away. The media tends to concentrate on the few terrorist objectives that have been achieved, ignoring the (boring, and thus not news) fact that the terrorists usually fail. A recent study published in "International Security" magazine ("Why Terrorism Does Not Work") took 28 terrorist organizations that have been operating during the last six years, counted their objectives, and found that only seven percent of those have been achieved. Not very encouraging for the bad guys.

Some al Qaeda leaders have been paying attention, and are suggesting that current tactics be modified. Even the slow learners in al Qaeda have noted that attacks that kill a lot of civilians, makes the terrorists very unpopular. This was the case even in the two nations that are home for most al Qaeda leaders (Egypt and Saudi Arabia). Once there were terrorist attacks in those two nations that killed civilians (after 2003), support for al Qaeda plummeted. But once those attacks ceased (after a two year crackdown), support for the terrorists began to rise again.

Talking about how dumb it is to attack civilians, and getting terrorists to stop, are two different things. Al Qaeda, in particular, has adopted the attitude that civilians who die because of terrorist operations, are simply involuntary martyrs for the cause. But the families and neighbors of these involuntary martyrs think differently, and often turn on the terrorists violently. This reaction is one thing al Qaeda reformers have going for them. But for al Qaeda groupies and wannabes in the West (especially Europe and North America), the lack of local terrorist attacks just encourages them to keep believing in mass murder.

The al Qaeda reformers stress that by sticking to government, police and military targets, you not only avoid antagonizing the civilian population (that can hurt you bad, if they hate you), but you weaken the security forces. This is particularly true if the government is not popular with the locals. But going after guys with guns is more difficult, and dangerous, than just blowing up civilians. No glory in getting killed, tortured or imprisoned by the police. Getting al Qaeda to change their target list is going to be difficult, if not impossible.

Another thing the reformers want to change is the list of objectives. At the moment, al Qaeda will settle for nothing less than world domination. Everyone must be Moslem, Sunni Moslem to be specific. That means about fifteen percent of Moslems who are not Sunni must undergo some violent attitude adjustment. Many al Qaeda fans are getting discouraged at the difficulty there appears to be in achieving this goal. Thus the reformers urge a change of objectives. Let's stand for something more achievable. Like just getting all unbelievers (non-Moslems) out of the Middle East, or one country (like Iraq). Once that is accomplished, a new goal can be set. In other words, make it seem like al Qaeda has a chance. Not much change of that either. Bigger is better, reality be damned.

Given the history of terrorist organizations, which, by their very nature, are based on extremist positions, the reformers don't stand much of a chance, and neither does al Qaeda. But as long as they keep trying, some of their attacks will succeed.

 


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